Plotter vs. Panster

I’ve talked before about how I don’t have the usual skills for writing. I’m logical and love math, numbers, and statistics. I have a computer science degree, and pick up computer programs quickly. I like quilting in squares and triangles with straight lines and perfect points. Free motion quilting is about as crazy as I get with my sewing machine. And even then I keep it organized and logical in execution. It should come as no surprise that I considered myself a plotter for years.

In 2012 I took a risk and wrote NaNo without a plot. To be honest when I started writing I didn’t even have an idea. I had a single image in my head of a hidden square wooden door in a dark basement. So, I named a character and let her lead the way through her own story.

Since that time I’ve gone back to my plotting ways, or at least that is what I told myself. Then I started really thinking about my story writing style in the context of plotting vs pantsing. Was I ever REALLY a plotter?

My very first NaNo I started writing with a general concept. It was a sort of alternate world to our own. The only real different between the world of this novel and our own world was that women in my world could only have one child before becoming infertile. When I started writing that story I didn’t have much more than the world, main characters, and a vague idea of where I wanted that story to end.

Most years I plot out the first half or so of my novel, decide where I think it should end, and let the middle kind of take on a life of its own to get to that end. I know I’m not (usually) a pantser, not completely. But as I look back at my writing attempts I realize I’m not really a plotter either. I guess like most things there is a grey area and that is where I fall. I’m part panters and part plotter. It feels kind of good to get that out, to sent the record straight.

Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you fall somewhere in between?


Getting Ready for NaNo

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and it’s time to get ready. I need characters, a plot, and a setting. I’ve had the basics for quite a while, but I need to get down to the nitty gritty. I need more than this person did this thing, then a bunch of stuff happens, and this is the end. In my current outline I have over half the novel sketched out as “Insert Adventure here”. That isn’t going to fly when it comes time to start writing out that adventure.

Yesterday I found some time at a coffee shop to sketch out the history of this particular character. It was very helpful, and necessary work, but it hasn’t helped advance my plot at all. I also spent a bit of time sketching out the motivations for some of the minor characters. Again, necessary work, but it isn’t helping to advance my plot outline directly.

Tonight I plan to finish sketching out the minor characters for the first location in the novel. Then I’m going to plot out how the Main Character and her frenemy get off the first planet and started on the main adventure. All that really means though is that the hard work start tomorrow. Because that is when I have to solve the question of what does “Insert Adventure here” mean in this particular novel.

Have you got your novel all planned out for NaNo? Are you someone who uses placeholders like “Insert Adventure here” while plotting out a novel?

Journals, Notebooks, and Organization

I have always loved notebooks. My love of notebooks probably comes from my father. He almost always carried a little notebook with him. When he passed away I found a little stash of notebooks ready and waiting for when he needed them. He used to write notes about books he wanted to read, articles he enjoyed, music he’d listened to, or things he wanted to do on his next trip. Basically he kept a running list of everyday stuff he found useful or handy.

In Jr. High and High school I kept a true journal or diary. I would write in my journal almost everyday. A lot of it was boring everyday things, but it helped keep my mind clear and remind me of what was important to me. It was a great place to let loose when I was angry and struggling to process events, or when I wanted to note a great accomplishment.

These days I use notebooks for writing, crafting, and to do lists. When I’m planing a new story I almost always have a notebook on the go. I start writing out the plot, character sketches, research topics, and random ideas about the story. A friend of mine introduced me to Bullet Journaling and I’ve been meaning to try it to help schedule and keep track of to do items.

My latest idea for journaling is to make myself a Midori Travelers notebook. The Midori brand version is a little too expensive for me, but the concept is fairly simple. My plan is to make a small one to be able to use Moleskine cahier pocket notebooks as inserts. This should allow me to have a bullet journal in one notebook, and another notebook (or two) for stories I have on the go.

Are you a notebook person? How do you organize your thoughts, to do lists, etc?

Five Weeks to NaNoWriMo

Last week I mentioned I had a plot for my tenth NaNo (a teenager, a space ship, a memory storage device, and a fight for the throne). The more I think about this plot, the more I look forward to writing starting November first.

I love the early days of exploring a plot. The time after you have a general idea, but you don’t yet have the entire timeline worked out. In this case I was lucky enough to have a first scene pop into my head and play like a movie. I know what is important about the scene and how each of the characters will behave in it. A few days ago that first scene became the second scene as I solved part of the ‘how to avoid an info dump’ issue. The new first scene brought in a new character. Her creation sparked four other characters, two of whom will probably follow the characters off world eventually.

Each new discovery adds complexity and interest to what started as four simple items on a list. I only have the first third of the novel worked out. Basically I know what happens until the characters get off their initial planet. After that I know there will be adventures and trials, but I’m not sure what they are. For now I’m waiting for that next lightening bolt moment that will start to bring it all to shape the same way the early scenes have taken shape.

With Scriveners new iOS version I’m trying something a little different as I develop my plot. Usually I make my notes in a notebook or two (or on whatever scrap paper I can find).  Then when I need the ‘final’ timeline before I start writing I scramble to pull all my notes together. With scrivener on my iPad I can expand my plot through the corkboard even while sitting on the bus, or waiting in a doctors office. I’m still using a notebook to store random thoughts, or pieces that don’t fit into the main timeline yet. But I think I’ll have a lot less scrambling at the end as things come together.

How to you expand on your initial plot ideas once they come to you? Are you getting ready for NaNo yet?

Six Weeks to NaNoWriMo

Yes, you read that right, NaNoWriMo starts in only 6 weeks (plus a day). This year will be my 10th regular NaNo. I’m feeling motivated to win for the tenth time and have started planning and plotting to ensure it’s a good year.

This year I was struggling to find a NaNo plot. Usually I have an idea of what I’m going to write many months in advance. This year I was still without even a glimmer of an idea in August. At that point I decided I needed to get strategic to find my plot. It worked and finally I began to see my 10th NaNo take shape. My plot idea started with an abandoned space ship, a fight for the throne, a teenage photographer, and a memory storage device.

It is now a month later, and the plot has expanded to the point that I have the first third of the novel plotted. As a bonus I know how it is going to end.  The adventure in the middle is still a tangled mess of ideas and possibilities, but I have six weeks to whip it into shape.

Are you doing NaNo this year? Have you started preparing for a month of intense writing?

If you’re thinking of doing NaNo and don’t know where to begin I have a whole series of posts that might interest you. NaNoWriMo Series

Unexpected Consequences

I don’t often have reason to keep secrets. It isn’t that I can’t keep a secret, I can , but when it is something I am bubbling to share or talk about, it gets hard. This time it is also a secret I’m keeping from an unexpected group.

I started a new writing project a few weeks ago. It isn’t anything special, but because it is being sent to my critique group so quickly I decided to keep it a secret. Before now, I hadn’t considered what having my sounding boards be part of a larger critique group would mean. In this case I have a brand new story idea I am itching to share and hash out with the usual suspects of my writing group. Since I am submitting it so quickly to the critique group though I’m in a position of being able to get an opinion untainted by any previous knowledge.

It turns out there are unexpected consequences of having these two writing groups overlap. It has brought out questions I wasn’t expecting. Am I always going to want a completely fresh opinion on my work? Will I only care about having fresh opinions when it’s a brand new idea? Are there benefits to having people who know some of the background before diving into the work, while others know nothing?

In this case, no one knows anything. I’ve kept the genre, age, and type of story to myself. I haven’t told anyone about the characters, plot, or expected story arc. They are all going in blind. I guess I’ll be able to start answering some of those questions after the April meeting of the critique group.

Do you have a writing or a critique group? How do you deal with the overlap if there is any?

Running and Writing

It can be easy for me to forget how tightly all the little pieces of my life are tied together. Some of the connections are obvious. For example: working so I can pay for food, shelter, and clothes. The connection between my various hobbies, both to each other, and to my life in general isn’t as obvious.

Early last week I ran for the first time in a week. That run reminded me of how my running helps my writing. I usually run three days a week. I am a slow runner, and there are many times when I wonder why I run since I don’t have a great love for it. I started running as a preteen/teen because it was something I had to do. It was part of a larger training plan. We ran, and we hated it. We grumbled and complained, but because we had to we ran. I gave up running when I hit high school and moved to being a rec coach instead of an athlete. I remember the feeling of relief when I realized I would never have to run again.

In university I started running again. I felt the need to get some exercise, and I chose running because it was the easiest/cheapest solution. Since then the longest I have gone without a run is six months. Usually I can’t go more than two weeks without a run. I still grumble and complain about running, but I always come back to it. Running gives me something I need. It gives me something I haven’t found in anything else. It gives me self confidence, a sense of accomplishment, time for me, and a physical release for pent up anger or frustration.

The thing I had forgotten about running is that it also gives me time to think. When I run I tend to work through problems in my head. Lately the problems I’ve been working through are plot problems. It gives me a chance to picture more than one solution to a plot problem without interruption. When I run I often imagine how something might have been different. Sometimes those different versions of events slowly morph into great story ideas. On a really hard run sometimes letter my imagination have free rein is the only way to get through it. It keeps my imagination in top working order.

Do you have any hobbies that seem completely unrelated but that compliment each other perfectly? What do you do when you need to work out a problem?

Writing Process: The Dream vs The Truth

First up the way I dream a novel is written:

  • I have a great idea and easily find the time to write 3-4 days/night per week getting between 1000-2000 words each time. When I run into a plot hole the solution magically comes to me while I am sleeping, eating lunch, or getting off the bus.
  • Need to do some research? The perfect book is in at my library, and I’m able to pick it up as soon as I need it.
  • I finish my first draft with a feeling of accomplishment. I am so pleased it takes effort to put it aside for a while before diving into edits.
  • My first reread of the book is wonderful. There are plenty of things to fix, but I can already see the novel coming together. It doesn’t take long to finish a first run at fixing up the big problems.
  • I hand the novel off to my beta’s. They make suggestions but overall they agree it is awesomesauce. I edit the novel based on their suggestions.
  • I have time for some line edits before next steps (competition submission, querying, whatever).
  • I’m done! Queue the balloons, confetti, and rainbow riding unicorns.

My experience writing a novel goes more like this:

  • Get part of a great idea. Either the character or the setting but probably not both.
  • Spend a LOT of time plotting in my head, on napkin scraps, and with bubbles and blobs all over my notebook. Eventually I either get something that looks like a decent outline/plot or I give up and pants the idea in a fit of anger over my inability to flesh out the idea. I debate not even starting this idea because maybe it is crap.
  • Life explodes around me and even my best laid plans make it hard to write more than a few k a week. I have to force myself to continue forward instead of rewriting what I already have endlessly. At some point in the writing process I get my next ‘great novel’ idea and it takes every ounce of my willpower to see this idea through instead of jumping to the next one. I ‘quit’ for at least five times before deciding the project is worth finishing.
  • Research leaves me with more questions than answers, and I have to settle for the books I can find instead of the book that would be the most useful.
  • My first reread leaves me with several large plot holes and a million little ones. At least one of the plot holes will take several attempts and a few writers friends to solve. At least three times during the reread I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to write a novel.
  • I hand the novel off to my beta’s. They give me honest, helpful, and sometimes hard to hear feedback. Overall they still agree the idea could be awesomesauce, but it needs some work.
  • I do another round of edits. I am still not happy with how the novel feels. The idea is starting to take shape, but it will need more edits and polish before it is ready for next steps. I debate quitting again, but eventually suck it up and get it done. If I am on a deadline I do what I can to get it ready and submit the best draft I have at the time.
  • So far no balloons, confetti, and rainbow riding unicorns have been achieved at the end of the process. Although only my YA Portal Fantasy has made it this far.

What is your favourite part of the writing process? Do you have at least one moment of ‘this sucks what was I thinking’ before you write The End?

Writing Contest and Character Development

I took a big leap this week and submitted my YA portal fantasy to a writing competition. Submitting wasn’t an easy decision but in the end the entry fee was a small price to pay to get some comments from strangers who are in the industry. I spent a few weeks doing a deep edit of the entire novel. Then I was lucky enough to have a friend volunteer to read the first 20k (the part the judges will read) for grammar/punctuation (not my strong suit, but I’m working on it). I made many of those changes, and now I wait. Assuming I didn’t mess up my file in some way,  I shouldn’t hear anything back until late June when they announce the short list. In the end I hope to get a few useful comments, and I’ve come out of the experience with a solid second draft I can return to later.

One of the things that bothers me about the submitted novel is how shallow the characters are. They feel more real in my head than they are on the page. Since I have dedicated February and March to working on my NA Murder Mystery, now is a great time to work on character development for that novel. I have a feeling most of February will be spent doing research for the detective aspects of the novel while working to flesh out the main characters. It’s time to pull out trait lists, questionnaires, and do some sample scenes.

If you have a unique way of getting to know your stories’ characters, I would love to hear it.